Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin delves into Gators sports: 'It has been an eventful year'

David Whitley
Gator Sports

For better and worse, it’s been a memorable year at UF. Sun sports columnist David Whitley sat down with athletic director Scott Stricklin for a conversation about the events. Part 1 of the two-part series with Stricklin deals with the coaching changes and potential changes at UF venues.

David Whitley: What would you have said if I told you 12 months ago, you'd have been hiring a new football, men's basketball and women's basketball coach?

Scott Stricklin: I don't think anything surprises you in this business. If you'd have told me, we would be in the position we're in right now with the individuals we have in those positions, I would have been pretty excited. But it has been an eventful year, to say the least.

Why not go with big-name coaching hires?

DW: There’s been some concern since in each case you went with younger, more unproven coaches rather than established, big-name hires. Was that coincidental or a part of an overall philosophy?

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SS: I understand people looking at it that way. The way I look at it is, ‘Who has the highest upside? Who can put us in a position to win championships? I use the (Wayne) Gretzky comment — Don’t skate where the puck is, skate where the puck is going to be. That’s where you have to do some projecting and look at traits that successful people have and tie that together. So I don’t pay attention to labels. I look at who I think is going to do a really good job.

Athletic director Scott Stricklin at the introductory press conference for basketball coach Todd Golden at Exactech Arena in Gainesville, on March 23, 2022.

DW: The way the football season fell apart so quickly exposed deeper flaws in the program than many suspected. Were you aware how badly things had deteriorated?

SS: Winning can cover up a lot of issues, and I think that was the case. There were some there were some areas we needed to get better, and all those were exposed at a high level at the same time. The timing of it was, I don’t want to say it was random. But it lined up very suddenly.

DW: It was like an un-harmonic convergence. But did you think there was a foundation to handle those issues?

SS: If the losses had occurred, but we felt like the foundation was in place and we were going to get through this, we might be in a different place today. But those issues were there before the losses mounted, so it became pretty obvious what we needed to do.

DW: The change in culture seems stark with all the staff and specialists Billy Napier has hired.

SS: You know, the more important than number of the size of the staff is the structure and organization. If you actually look at just raw numbers, and I'm betting we probably have 10% or 15% more people than we had prior, so it's not it's not like 50% more. But just Billy's been very purposeful about what they do and the roles they're in. If you're going to deploy resources in that way, it gives you a lot of confidence that you're going to have a pretty good return on investment.

Was Mike White's departure a surprise? 

DW: Switching to men's basketball: The season had some good moments, but in general it was disappointing. Had Mike White stayed, what would have been your message to him?

SS: Oh, I don't know how much of that I want to share. Other than I intended us to sit down and get his thoughts on how we were going to get back in the tournament and compete for the SEC title and all the things that that are important around here. I knew we had some work to do. And I was ready to roll up our sleeves and figure out how to help my address whatever issues we had.

DW: How surprised were you when he resigned? It’s not every day a Florida coach becomes a Georgia coach.

SS: I had heard some scuttlebutt that might be a possibility. As I said, nothing surprises you in this business. I'm really fond of Mike as a guy and appreciate everything he did here. It's hard for me to wish Georgia well, but I certainly wish Mike well.

DW: With women’s basketball, you took responsibility for the Cam Newbauer situation. What did you learn from that?

SS: We want to make sure that we’ve put systems in place to make sure we have a way that we can get feedback that’s unfiltered. Some of those things were in place before, but we just have strengthened some reporting mechanisms and made sure if there's a concern that we have a way to address it. Sometimes it needs to be addressed outside of the UAA. It needs to be independent set of ears.

Coach out:Cam Newbauer steps down as women's basketball coach at UF, interim to run team in upcoming season

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DW: Dan Mullen, Mike White and Cam Newbauer all received contract extensions last year. Each situation is unique, but overall it looked weird giving extensions to three people who left.

SS: Dan had a six-year deal originally and we were going to extend him after two, but COVID hit and we delayed it. So the timing was delayed and we lost three of our last four games, but we were rewarding him for what he had done in total. Coach White, he had been approached by other Power 5 schools and we wanted to play defense at that point. Every situation is different, but you're going to support the people who are a part of this program until they're no longer part of this program.

Big buyout:Dan Mullen got fired and got $12 million. Which college football coach has the biggest buyout?

What's the status of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium upgrades? 

DW: The next major facilities upgrade around here is the football stadium. How have those plans progressed?

SS: We have a lot of options on the table and we’re getting to the point where we’re ready to have conversations with the Board of Trustees and other key stakeholders and choose a path. It’s a pretty iconic stadium with a ton of history and tradition. We want to make sure it’s updated and modernized so generations to come can enjoy it.

DW: What specifics changes are in play, especially when it comes to capacity?

SS: Anything we touch in the general seating is going to have get in line with ADA and other code standards. Right now, we’re not in line.

DW: So the current seating was grandfathered in code-wise, but will have to change when you upgrade? How might that affect seating?

SS: Widening the aisles and putting in handrails making all seats 19 inches wide (they are currently 16.9 inches), that’s probably 8,000 seats minimum that are being taken out of the stadium right there. A lot of our current focus is on gate structure, concourse size, restroom counts and concession counts.

DW: How soon will a plan be in place and the construction begin?

SS: I hate to speculate right now, but we’re moving as quickly as we can.

What about O'Connell Center improvements? 

DW: There have been complaints about O’Connell Center and how the crowds don’t look good on TV because the cameras don’t show the student side of the court. Is that an issue to you and will the court be flipped?

SS: Yeah, it’s about a $1 million project. It’s something I’d like to see happen, just to showcase the Rowdies and all the energy they bring. We’re trying to find the funding right now.

DW: The university recently was deeded some land west of town that might be used for a golf course. What does that mean for the future of Mark Bostick Golf Course and might it be closed?

To come?:Land for new UF golf course included in plans to develop 4,068 acres west of Gainesville

SS: Right now, we don’t have any plans for it to be anything but a golf course. I think it’s important for the campus community to have a golf course. If plans begin to develop for a different use of that land, we would engage the campus community and get them in that conversation.

— David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at dwhitley@gannett.com. And follow him on Twitter: @DavidEWhitley.